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Stella Maris Retreat Centre and Chapel saved

Wingnut Films
Wellington City Council

12 September 2007

Stella Maris Retreat Centre and Chapel saved

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have bought the historic Stella Maris Retreat Centre and Star of the Sea Chapel in Seatoun.

The purchase follows community and Council concern at an application to the Environment Court to have the heritage listing removed from the Chapel which would have taken away its protection from possible demolition.

“The loss of Stella Maris and the Chapel would have irrevocably altered the beauty and charm of the Seatoun area. We feel it’s important to protect and preserve these buildings. They are an extremely unique piece of local history,” Mr Jackson says.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast welcomed the news.

“The Council is absolutely delighted that Peter and Fran have bought this beautiful site. This iconic facility has been an integral part of the Seatoun community for decades, as a chapel and school, and is historically significant, not just to the local area but to the whole of Wellington,” she says.

“The Council has worked hard to protect the site. The architecturally-significant church is listed as an historic place and we have recently extended that protection to the area around the church. Without this extremely generous offer by Fran and Peter to buy and protect the site, Wellington faced losing a very valuable piece of the city’s heritage. On behalf of the city I thank them.”

Mr Jackson says their use of the site will be low impact – most likely offices and a small computer effects production facility.

“Our aim is to preserve the chapel and the Stella Maris school building in their current setting. At this stage the goal is to strengthen the Chapel and use the surrounding buildings for low key work such as film editing and computer effects. We appreciate the local interest in these historic buildings, and we’re thinking about holding an open day early in the New Year,” he says.

Sisters of Mercy Congregation Leader Sister Denise Fox says the Sisters are delighted at the news and welcome the sale enabling the preservation of the Chapel and original building. The result is a positive outcome for all involved, she says.

The Sisters of Mercy ran Star of the Sea School on the site from 1909 until 1976. When the school closed the buildings were used as a conference and retreat centre. The Chapel has been closed since 2002 as it does not meet the Council’s earthquake code. The settlement date is 21 December.

“Ending our association with a community like Seatoun is not easy, but the school has been closed for 30 years, and the demand for retreats has declined,” Sister Denise says.

“We are able to focus on our mission of education, healthcare, social services and the provision of social housing and are released from the burden of preserving an historic building. The outcome will be pleasing for the various parties who have shown interest in the Chapel since our application was lodged in the Environment Court,” says Sister Denise.

Wellington City Council will work with Peter and Fran to support their heritage restoration work and other small changes to prepare the site for its exciting new future as part of Wellington’s creative industries.

“This must be one of the best locations in Wellington for creative thinking,” Mayor Prendergast says.

“I’m delighted that the beauty of this site will not only be maintained for the residents and visitors of Wellington, but will now become available to new generations as a place to explore and develop their creative talents,” she says.


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